Tag Archives: resurrection

Holy everything

Nearly a week has passed since Christ rose from the grave, since we celebrated Easter with trumpets and sunrise, communion and hallelujahs, feast and fanfare, and I still feel resoundingly full.

It’s not just the ham that’s still in the refrigerator or the earnest celebration of new life that felt so different from the traditions of revering the ancestors and sweeping the ancestors this time of year in China.  In fact, it’s the same story, from my youth, of Jesus riding in triumphantly on the donkey, of black Friday, of brutal death on a cross, and an empty tomb.

Nothing has changed in the Biblical story, so how do I account for what feels so different, so breathless, so heavy, so alive about Easter this year?

First signs of spring on the university campus.
First signs of spring on the Princeton University campus.

Last Sunday as the pastor stood in the pulpit, she reminded us that for Christians, we have no tomb, no cross, no holy place, hill, mount, or edifice to go to pay homage to Jesus, but that we ourselves are the embodiment of the resurrection, the Living Stones (1 Peter 2), the Easter people.  There are no holy places and so in resurrection, we are made holy people.

But our pastor also stepped off a white-cloaked altar into the sea of faces dressed in their best that morning and invited us to share our joys and concerns like we do on ordinary Sundays.  We were reminded that in earnest celebration there is still loss, and fear, and pain.

I think it’s this fact that accounts for the fullness of this season for me, the fact that the communion we take symbolizes not only life, resurrection, and the miraculous, but human brokenness, betrayal, and violence.  Likewise, the Easter story we celebrate leaves the women and the disciples not only full of hope and promise, foreshadowing the incredible growth of the church in history, but also anguished by the death of their savior, and bewildered and fearful at the sight of an empty tomb, a dwindling faithful, and an impossible truth.

This Easter I’m reminded that God doesn’t change, but the resurrection changes us, often and endlessly.  

C.S. Lewis wrote, “I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God.  It changes me.”

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We don’t become Easter people in a flash, jubilant and freed from this world, but we become Easter people when holiness leaves the altar, the cross, the tomb, and steps firmly into our midst and settles into our bodies and life rhythms.  Our circumstances don’t necessarily change, we still look like the flawed people that we are, but we become Easter people when our hearts, our eyes look upon this world and find everything holy.  We become Easter people when we behold what is holy in one another as though we are making a pilgrimage to somewhere sacred, because the Kingdom of God is here, in you and in me.  We become Easter people when we stop parsing what’s God and what isn’t and relish that the Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.  We become Easter people when death is always with us, and yet, we experience life anew.

We become Easter people each time spring and hope return to a desperate world, and we’re left full, changed, and holy.

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Wow.

It’s just a few days prior to his death, and he knows it’s coming along with betrayal by those closest to him, mockery, and agony.  And yet he ties a towel around his waist, fills a basin with water, and stoops close to the ground and the filth and the earth to wash the disciples’ feet.

If that doesn’t fill you with awe, I don’t know what will.

In her latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott writes, “Even though I remember my pastor saying that God always makes a way out of no way, periodically something awful happens, and I think that God has met Her match–a child dies or a young father is paralyzed.  Nothing can possibly make things okay again.  People and grace surround the critically injured person or the family.  Time passes.  It’s beyond bad.  It’s actually a nightmare.  But people don’t bolt, and at some point the first shoot of grass breaks through the sidewalk.”

Lamott could easily have been writing a prayer of the help or thanks genre, but she’s actually describing the wow.  The wow is not that bad things don’t happen, because they do.  The wow is that “people don’t bolt” during the “beyond bad.”

My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.
My Chinese teacher translating for Chen Guangcheng at Princeton University yesterday afternoon.

Last night my husband and I went to hear blind human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng, speak on the Princeton University campus.  He told his story of working for justice in China, his famous escape to the U.S. embassy, the lesser told tale of his family’s continued persecution, and the gory details of his nephew’s beating and imprisonment following his asylum in the United States.  While the reality of human rights abuses in China is rife with suffering, fear, and pain, Mr. Chen’s family, other activists in China, and many around the world haven’t given up.

Wow.

Over the last few days the internet has been flooded by photos of Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of inmates at a juvenile detention facility.  The new pope’s far from perfect, and his actions might not change the world, but the images move us because they speak of what it means to regard the humanity of one another in situations that are “beyond bad.”

Pope Francis kissing inmates' feet.
Pope Francis kissing inmates’ feet.

Wow.

When you really think about it Holy Week, so artfully named, was “beyond bad.”  There was really nothing good about good Friday, and there is nothing more nightmarish than the death of God.

But even in death God hasn’t met Her match.  Sometimes we forget, though, that it came to that–that death was gory for Jesus, that it was pain, and the earth plunged into darkness–that simply put, we can’t have the resurrection, the wow, the shoots of grass, without the “beyond bad,” the nightmare of the crucifixion that delivers us from sin and death.

And with all that was yet to come, he went willingly to his death.  Yet, before doing so he took their feet in his holy hands and scrubbed them like a servant.  That’s what our savior did with some of his last moments on this earth.

Sunrise in New Jersey.
Sunrise in New Jersey.

Wow.

The resurrecting in between

I remember that moment in my college studies when it was pointed out to me that history was hardly static and that periodization, the act of splicing history into reasonable, succinct bites, necessarily altered the meaning of those events it sought to contain.

Mind blown.

The stories of our own lives, our own journeys, are told and retold.  We re-imagine the significance of certain events in light of others, and every once in awhile we feel blessed to look back and see what we believe to be the hand of God.  That type of perspective is other-worldly, not because God only blessed us with bite-sized intelligence, but because God and life only lends each moment with bite-sized grace.

If you’re like me, you try to gobble grace in bigger bites.  You get really gluttonous and really greedy, and you think you could live life a bit better, certainly more faithfully, if God would just give you that kind of landscape, big-picture, historic panorama vision.  I feel like this most of the time.

All photos by Evan Schneider.
All photos by Evan Schneider.

And then there are the days when I sit in silence and listen for God, and I know, fully and with great freedom, that these seasons that supposedly lie in between that we all feel, these days of waiting, these are God’s, too.

I know this because other faithful people around me confirm it and live it, and they struggle, too.

I read a line on facebook the other morning that said, “Perspective: Abraham waited 25 years, Joseph 13 years, Moses 40 years, Jesus 30 years. If you’re in a waiting season, you’re in good company.” 

What a comfort to know that we’re not the only ones who wait and wonder and…stumble.

Just the other day I mentioned to a professor that a paper I’d written and been proud of had become a stumbling block toward developing my dissertation.  The realization of the fact was freeing–perhaps I could now move forward.  She responded differently, jubilantly, with a line I’ve never heard or thought I would, “Oh that’s good, stumbling blocks are good!” she purred.

Lotus flower

We can’t really learn anything if we don’t stumble, but we’re also remiss if we think we’re bound for a life where we stumble no more.  This morning a friend of mine told me that after a loved one died, she was told there’d be suffering, followed by healing, followed by victory.

We began to muse together that, what if while we’re stumbling, while we’re waiting, there is also resurrecting?  What if what’s in between is victory?  What if this moment isn’t between what’s next, what’s holy, and what’s God’s, but this moment accepted, embraced, and faithfully swallowed is grace incarnate?

On Wednesday I wrote that the world seems so full of saturated with pain and heartache lately I feel as if it would burst.  If anything, over the last few days the messiness of life has started to seep out of those seams with even greater gravity.  And if you’re like me, despite the above revelations, at moments like these you’ll continue to yearn for God’s panoramic vistas, you’ll be tricked into trusting in your own powers of perspective, into concluding that victory is a sham and resurrection fleeting.

But all the while you’ll have been looking to the horizon, to the mountains, onward and forward, when God was right beside you offering a hand, a shoulder, and rest for your weary head.  Friends, look around–you’re in good company, you’re already victorious, you’re being offered a sliver of grace.

Flower

So don’t miss the resurrecting in the waiting, the stumbling, in the seasons between.